We camped at the entrance of the Dunes in Sesriem and used the afternoon of our rest day to drive into Soussusvlei and Deadvlei for the sunset. Memories returned of my honeymoon with Pierre a few years ago. We rested on a dune near Deadvlei and watched the sun go down by a glass of red wine. Absolutely spectacular. Back in camp, we had a quick bite to eat and prepared ourselves for next day’s Mando (aka long and painful day in the saddle), a 137km ride to the Betta Camp.
The desert was covered in mist when we started our ride the next morning, only slowly evaporating with the sun rising over the mountains. For most of the morning, we rode in headwind quickly spreading out the group of riders. At about 40km we turned away from the headwind but found ourselves soon on a steady long climb, lasting for over 20km to lunch. We could see the road winding up ahead into the distant mountains. From the time cars passed with about 80km/h it took 20 minutes for it to reach the top of the pass. How long would it take us riders then, I wondered? I decided that I did not want to know, turned up the music and soldiered on. The temperature had climbed to a proud 42 degrees as a reminder that we are in the desert. After lunch, once we had mastered the climb, the landscape changed from the bare sandy ground to a more yellowish grassland. The road got progressively worse with wavy corrugation every surfer would be jealous of. I was looking forward to a refresher stop at the 97km mark but to my surprise were only greeted by deserted buildings. I still had a bottle of water left and happily carried on surfing the waves. The next Sprite stop should have been around 15km later but never appeared. I began to ran concerningly low on water and took tiny little sips to stretch out what was left. But there is a point when even the last drop of water vanishes. There was only about 25km of riding left however in the baking heat combined with the sandy and corrugated road condition, my mouth dried out in no time. I was extremely thirsty. Stopping a passing car was my last resort. The first car I approached instantly stopped and a very curious German couple gave me all the water they had. Revived with new energy the last few kilometres to the Betta camp flew by quickly.
The next day we had a 157km ride ahead to Konkiep Lapa via Helmeringhausen. The first 50km was a beautifully testing ride through deep sand. At about 40km I started screaming. A bit later some tears ran down my face out of frustration. I was so pissed off and couldn’t understand how one can ride so slowly by putting in so much afford. With my mountainbike I would have flown through the sand but I had to learn that the much narrower tyres of my gravel grinder don’t quite float the same way. Once we were out of the worst sand section over 3 ½ hours had gone by. After a water refill delivered by the passing TDA car, we headed into the mountains and ascended for about 600meters until lunch. By that time, I had ridding 4 ½ hours and still had 100km ahead. Typically, I don’t need much food from the lunch stop since the Hammer Perpetuem satisfies all my nutritious needs, however, on this day I was ravenous and ate two burgers!! By the time I left lunch, I had shaken off the drama of the morning and was in great spirit. The slight downhill, tailwind and improving gravel conditions certainly contributed to a beautiful afternoon on the bike. We passed Helmeringhausen about 50km before the finish and indulged in a juicy warm apple cake in the famous Tea Garden. The experience was quite surreal after spending hours in the desert with hardly any living soul and vegetation around. The last stretch to camp was fast and downhill on almost tarmac like smooth gravel. The day couldn’t have been filled more with contrasts!
Seeheim was our next destination with only 30km gravel before we headed on to the B4 all the way to the finish. I had my forth flat since Cairo the morning we left the Konkiep Lapa campsite. The ground had been thorny, and so the air in my front wheel deflated quickly. Thanks to Rob who helped me getting the tyre quickly off and back on the rim, we were on our way only a few minutes later. The rest of the ride was uneventful. Once the gravel ended I was surprisingly relieved to feel the smooth tarmac. The cross bikes are certainly super-fast on gravel but the abuse on back and joints is enormous, and a little spa day on paved roads is a real treat for the body. The ride was relatively short with just over 5 hours, while the previous two days had been over 7 hour riding days.
We were treated to a short morning ride to the Canyon Rest camp, near the Fish River Canyon, the next day. We had to endure the first few kilometres of very poor, and I mean very poor corrugated gravel. In fact, so poor that my bottle cage ripped in pieces from the bouncing of the bottle. But this stretch was quickly behind and ahead the Canyon Roadhouse with all sorts of delicious food. I had two lunches and two desserts within 2hrs. The obligatory jump in the pool and quick nap filled the afternoon and in a blink, we are back on the road again.
The ride to the Orange River meant that we were leaving the Namib desert behind and get excitingly close to home. But it wouldn’t be Tour D’Afrique if you don’t ride at least 170km. I considered this the perfect opportunity to test my legs for the AMArider 100Miler (a non-technical gravel race near Cape Town) in two weeks’ time. The route was stunning with incredible views into the canyon for most of the first part of the ride. After we left the Ai-Ais National Park, we were riding in what appeared to be like a moon landscape and were exposed to a strong headwind and sandy terrain. At about 100 km we reached the Richtersveld mountains and soon thereafter saw the first vineyards in front of us, which meant that the Orange River was just around the corner. I finished in 6h18min and was pleased that my tired legs and body was still able to push a higher pace.
We cross the South African border tomorrow. Still feels like we’ve been in Ethiopia the other day, in Malawi last week and a couple days ago I stood by the Vic Falls in Zambia. And tomorrow in South Africa? It will take a while to fully comprehend and appreciate what has happened the last four months, and work through all the experiences, impressions, emotions and learnings. At the moment, I feel overloaded with emotions; with an overwhelming joy to go home, but also sadness to see this adventure coming to an end. I have been endlessly blessed with the opportunity and health to ride my bike through Africa and above all to raise funds for Qhubeka.
I won’t stop dreaming up new adventures. There are still a few continents to go and many more children in need of the amazing Buffalo Bicycles.
If you would like to help a child with a bicycle please follow this link for more info: https://katjasteenkamp.com/qhubeka-world-bicycle-relief/
Qhubeka World Bicycle Relief #BicyclesChangeLives TDA Global Cycling#TourDAfrique #TourDAfrique Revolution Cycles Cape Town Specialized Bicycles #SpecializedDivergeElite Hammer Nutrition SA Team BreakAway